The tale of Elisa Bravo is a story of naked propaganda used to attack innocent people. In 1849 on this day, the Joven Daniel, a Chilean naval ship ran aground on lands owned and populated by the Mapuche tribes.
The ship appears to have been lost with all hands, but that story would not suit subsequent narrative. So a darker and more salacious tale began to emerge. Battered white innocents begging the natives to help them and being murdered in painful and imaginative ways. Beautiful young girls raped and forced to raise half-cast children. In one of the stories the native indios began by helping the whites, but as they salvaged the wreck they found a barrel of rum. Once they had a taste they turned into wild drunken monsters.
Remember, there was no evidence of any of these tales. They were the imagination run riot of people who had no idea what actually happened. They were cobbled together from a collection of conflicting and contradictory reports from unreliable “witnesses”.
Subsequent investigations of the incident turned up some salvaged goods from the Brig, but no enslaved women and children, no graves, no grisly remains. The Mapuche maintained that all hands were lost at sea and they simply salvaged what washed up on shore.
But the incident was used as a reason to conquer and tame the savage indios and unite their lands with Chile. Elisa Bravo was the symbol of the propaganda. Her image, captured by Monvoisin, provides a simple compelling narrative of the fate of the innocent young white Christian Chilean bride at the hands of the savages. In the first image she struggles to protect babies from the dirty brown clutches of the savages. In the second image she is a ruined woman, bare-breasted, indolent, melancholic and caring for the children she bore out of rape.
Her case was the Madeline McCann of her day. Supposed sightings of Elisa were reported as far afield as the Times of London.
Raymond Monvoisin was a celebrated French artist of his day, and was invited to Chile to direct the national Academy of Painting in 1848. He returned to France ten years later, impoverished and forgotten, but leaving an indelible mark on the direction of the arts in Chile.